illustration of Laura wearing her mothers hat and holding a basket with a shadowy figure behind her

The Garden Party: And Other Stories

by Katherine Mansfield

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In "The Garden Party," why did Laura want to stop the party after the accident?

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Laura's character is not well developed. The author introduces her and we see her through the eyes of others, especially as she is complimented on her looks. She contrasts with the sensitive mother and Mrs. Bidlake. I think that's all I have to say about this particular story. I hope you enjoyed it!

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Laura decides that social-class distinctions are ridiculous when she is told to go outside and direct the workmen setting up for the garden party. She takes a decidedly romantic or rose-colored view of the working-class laborers she deals with. She especially appreciates one for stopping to smell the lavender growing in the garden. She decides to eradicate class from her mind in an act of will, as she thinks,

Why couldn't she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper? She would get on much better with men like these.

It's all the fault, she decided[...]of these absurd class distinctions. Well, for her part, she didn't feel them. Not a bit, not an atom[...].

Thus, when she finds out about the death of the working-class man who lives nearby, she continues on with her idealized notions about ignoring class. She wants her family to treat his death just as they would a neighbor of their own social class and cancel the party as a sign of respect. Her family decides otherwise, and the party proceeds as planned.

Laura is naive in thinking she can eradicate deeply entrenched class differences singlehandedly by deciding they shouldn't be. Nevertheless, the reader is left to ponder the vast gulf between social classes and what might be done to close the gap beyond sending a grieving family a basket of party leftovers.

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Laura, from her youthful innocent perspective, feels that it would be inappropriate to have a party in light of the fact that a young man who live just down the hill from their home has died.  She is acutely aware that there is a devastated family in mourning a couple of blocks away, and their party seems frivolous.  Her family step in to explain that the world they live in (the upper class at the top of the hill) and the world of the poor at the bottom of the hill are two completely separate worlds and the actions of one have no bearing on the other.  Laura doesn't completely let it go, but is brought back into the light, bright world of her party at the mention of her new fancy hate.  After the party, she feels the connection of the two worlds again, and she bridges the gap of the two worlds when she travels to the dead man's house to deliver a care package -- ironically made up of leftovers from the fancy party.  Once there, she is confronted by the reality of death and realizes that there is something very tranquil and peaceful in death and she leaves no longer innocent of this truth of the human experience.

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In "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield, explain why Laura wanted to stop the garden party when she heard about the accident.

Her reaction is quite understandable considering the profile of the character. Laura is very young, sensitive by nature, and has always lived in a protective world. The neighbour's accident at work is probably Laura's first real encounter and confrontation with tragedy. Quite naturally, she not only sympathizes but empathizes with the grieving family.  To let the garden party go on - oblivious to their pain - seems to be a demonstration of gross disrespect.

Laura learns through the reaction of her family, particulary that of her mother, that life goes on despite its trials and that the world cannot stop dead in its tracks each time someone faces disaster. Sorrow is an inherent part of existence, and its is not disgraceful to sympathize with someone's dilemma without actually suffering for it as well.

When I first read this story (young like Laura), I was a bit shocked by the inured tone of the author. Life has taught me since that she is more right than wrong.



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